Customer and Prospect Marketing: How Much is Too Much? | SalesAndMarketing.com
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Customer and Prospect Marketing: How Much is Too Much?

It's so tempting, isn't it? After all, sales are soft and marketers have to do more with less. Since you already have a substantial number of customer and prospect e-mail addresses, why not increase the frequency of your e-mail communication?

Answer: Because it could end up doing much more harm than good.

The power of communication has shifted to the consumer. In our marketing business, we recommend you query your customers and prospects on how and how often they wish to receive your communications. We call the process "customer-controlled communications," because it places the customers' needs ahead of your marketing desires—and it results in more satisfied customer interactions and increased sales.

We have also witnessed the impact of customer-controlled communications firsthand while running YourCover, a life-stage event-based company (births, birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, etc.). We tend to step up our marketing frequency around dates customers have indicated interest in remembering.

For example, we offer special promotions around events like Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, sending e-mails out first four then two weeks in advance of the event. Family birthdays are also often marked by those in our database, and we send specific e-mail reminders to those who have opted in for them.

By continually respecting the preferences of our customers and prospects, we maintain a very high percentage of our e-mail house file on a monthly basis. Like many companies, we would welcome ways to spur more immediate sales. But we also understand our long-term strategy of listening to what people want provides YourCover with a better customer relationship—and consequently, a better ROI.

I've pulled together some of the lessons we've learned from e-mail campaigns with YourCover in the hope that you can adopt and adapt them in your own marketing. Five lessons, to be precise:

1. Customers tend to forget. Even when customers and prospects opt-in for e-mail communication, they often forget doing so and report your communication as spam.

2. Less really is more. Less frequent communications (one to two per month) have resulted in fewer opt outs than when we tested a weekly e-mail.

3. Customers won't read (too much). Subject lines make all the difference, a fact most marketers have come to know all too well.

4. Less sizzle…or you get the stake. Heavy graphics in e-mails often result in their being blocked by spam filters.

5. They don't want what they didn't request. Attachments should not be used in e-mails, as they also drive down open rates and responses.

These lessons have taught us how and how often our customers want to hear from us. And they have given us ideas for new promotions. Instead of having our editors vote on the "cover of the month," as we do currently, we are going to create a voting system that the customers and site viewers will control.

This speaks a little to the approach that the folks at threadless.com use for their successful t-shirt business. It's also a great example of customer-controlled communications.

Mark Kolier is president of the direct and digital marketing agency CGSM.